- Loizos Heracleous y David Robson
- BBC Creativity Collective
In the 1980s, a group of young engineers at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston warned that the Apollo-era control systems of the 1960s would struggle to handle the more complex challenges of flying the shuttle. space.
The engineers’ concerns fell on deaf ears. NASA knew and trusted the Apollo-era systems, which had successfully sent humans to the Moon.
Undeterred, the group of renegades, who later called themselves “the Pirates”, began coding new software for mission control subsystems in his spare time, using equipment borrowed from NASA vendors.
Their system was based on workstations that were commercially available, connected through a Unix network, which ‘hackers’ considered a more resilient and adaptable configuration.
After several months, they physically took their system to mission control for testing, but the flight controllers asked them to leave.
At that moment, Gene Kranz, the legendary director of mission control, stepped in.
He had faith in the rogue engineers, knew how important the project would be in terms of bringing in the necessary capacity, and asked the other flight directors to give the group a chance.
To test it, the pirate system was tested alongside the existing system for a few months.
The official system crashed twice, but the pirate system kept working.
In hindsight, it’s easy to see your benefits; the new system could display graphics and colors, was easily reprogrammable, and could perform real-time diagnostics based on multiple parameters using early forms of artificial intelligence.
These capabilities were very deficient in the official system. The rebel engineers tested themselves and their system through a baptism of fire.
All of the mission control subsystems were then gradually transferred to the pirate system, which received a “Hammer Award” from then-Vice President Al Gore for making dramatic improvements in the functioning of the government.
The pirate system had saved $ 74 million in development and $ 22 million in recurring annual operating costs.
The rebel engineers were then asked to design the mission control system for the next project, the International Space Station.
Organizations have rules and policies designed to promote stability, predictability, efficiency, and productivity, and we tend to view people who don’t follow these rules as troublesome.
However, as NASA hackers show, suppressing or ignoring these people and their ideas could backfire, potentially depriving companies of a powerful source of energy. agility, knowledge and innovation.
The benefits of rebellion
There is psychological evidence that rebellion is essential for creativity.
Harvard psychiatrist Albert Rothenberg spent more than five decades researching people who had made groundbreaking contributions to science, literature, and the arts, seeking to understand what drove their creativity.
As part of a larger research project, which encompassed structured interviews, experimental studies, and desk analysis, Rothenberg interviewed 22 Nobel laureates.
He found that they were strongly emotionally driven by wanting Create something new, rather than broadening current perspectives.
He found that they consciously sought to look at things with an open mind rather than blindly following established wisdom, two qualities that would seem to suggest a rebellious rather than conformist personality.
To further investigate the benefits of rebellion, a team led by Paraskevas Petrou at the Erasmus University Rotterdam recently surveyed 156 employees from various industries in the Netherlands.
They measured rebellion through a questionnaire that asked participants to rate how much they agreed with statements such as:
- I break the rules
- I know how to circumvent the rules
- I use bad words
- I resist authority
The team also asked participants how much they used creativity during the past week and inquired about more general attitudes towards their work.
As Rothenberg might have predicted, the rule breakers were actually more creative, but the effects depended on a few other traits.
For rebellion to have a more consistent positive impact on their work, people also had to be “focused on promotion,” that is, driven by goals and objectives. interested in personal growth, while tolerating the possibility of failure.
“You have to be really focused on the positives that you can achieve,” says Petrou, who is an assistant professor in social and behavioral sciences.
These attitudes can depend on the context and general climate within a company or organization, he says, and whether to tolerate failure or not.
Often times, these “rebels with a cause,” also known as “constructive deviants,” can be motivated because they care about the organization and its mission, and feel psychological discomfort when they see that important capabilities clearly need improvement.
Observational studies provide many more examples besides NASA pirates.
The context and the actors may change, but the substance is remarkably similar.
A small group of committed people who think differently and who have valid strategic insights can foster groundbreaking innovations that promote business success.
This is how the IBM business model went online and how the Apple Macintosh was created.
Thinking differently and challenging established spaceflight paradigms is also how entrepreneur Elon Musk and others in the space business are building technology like reusable rockets that will radically restructure the launch economy and open the space for expansion. human and trade.
Fostering the rebellious spirit
Unfortunately, it can be difficult to maintain a corporate culture that allows rebels to thrive.
Over time, established operating rules and procedures that support consistent service delivery, efficiency, and reliable processes can also create inertia and work against adaptability and innovation.
History and culture conspire so that things continue to be done in the same way that they “always” have been done.
People judge proposed innovations based on whether they are in accordance with the established paradigm, rather than their ability to create new paradigms.
Such a state is dangerous, since repress the necessary changes.
Leaders must be aware of these trends and fight them.
They should promote a culture in which challenging the status quo and pushing boundaries are seen as legitimate behavior, rather than branding rebels as troublemakers and jeopardizing their careers.
If they are committed to creativity, leaders must take practical steps to ensure that progress is achievable, making sure the “rebels” have the space, the funds and time available to pursue innovative ideas that may seem crazy, unwarranted or out of place at the time, but could subsequently save the organization.
NASA shows that change is possible. Today, it is a network-based organization that partners with commercial space players to take advantage of the best available technology, wherever you are.
And this more open approach to change owes much to its inner renegades, who decades ago employed commercially available technology and challenged traditional ways of doing things.
For individual rebels, their own motivations might be worth considering.
As when the maximum rebel, Steve Jobs, advised the Stanford University graduating class in his 2005 commencement address that we have to look inward to find what we really love, and then go for it.
When we do something we love, this emotional commitment will drive us to do the right thing when the situation warrants it, even when others are opposed to what we are doing or do not see things the way we do.
In other words, don’t rebel for the sake of doing it, but look for a cause that really matters to you, and then channel your frustrations toward clear goals.
As Petrou’s work has shown, that is the secret of the “constructive deviant”.
If we can connect with others who also have the drive to improve things and create new capabilities, even better; there is strength in common purpose.
Ken Kutaragi, the man behind the PlayStation, could count on Sony CEO Norio Ohga, who was also a rebel at heart.
In his youth, Ohga trained as an opera singer and conductor, and was hired by Sony after he wrote a letter of complaint to the company about the quality of its recorders.
Ohga led Sony to great success during his tenure between 1982 and 1995, saying that his approach was to go for the unconventional: “We are always chasing things that other companies will not touch.”
So try seek out other like-minded people within your organization, who can help provide support and remove obstacles when needed.
Rebels can get a bad rap, but in the right environment and with the right motivations, they can accomplish amazing things.
Loizos Heracleous is Professor of Strategy at Warwick Business School and Associate Fellow at the University of Oxford. He is the author of “Janus Strategy,” which is based in part on his own research with NASA.
David Robson is the author of The Intelligence Trap: Revolutionize Your Thinking and Make Wiser Decisions by the editorial Hodder & Stoughton / WW Norton.
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Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.